Friday, April 26, 2013


A scientific study of the cohesive and shear forces caused by thermal and phase change interactions between pulverized colloidal Oryza Sativa and its mold.
Dedicated to my Mom, or rather the absence of who at home enabled me, or rather forced me to venture into perilous, uncharted territories of the kitchen world.

                It so happens that, due to a series of unrelated events, blame chaos theory, our lovely family household has turned into a sort of bachelor pad run by me and another young(at heart) lad( read my Dad). This put me in a singular situation, kitchen patrol! Though I am pro all the way that pro can ever walk for gender equality, my conventional bringing up did not offer me an opportunity of running the kitchen patrol up to until now. This opened up the door to test some kitchen myths. This particular entry is a scientific study of the cohesive and shear forces caused by thermal and phase change interactions between pulverized colloidal Oryza Sativa and its mold or in kitchen patrol terms, the myth that by cooling the back of the idli pan by making tap water run over it, the idli won’t stick to the mold when we remove it. Now this procedure must have been in practice ever since tap water invaded the culinary territory in association with another procedure, dipping the idli spoon in cold water before scooping out each piece of idli. In my opinion the spoon dipping seems to be effective but when my Dad suggested that I do the invert-pan-run-tap water over procedure too, I was not sure if that will help. So I set out on the journey to find whether it is really effective in removing the idli from the pan without small pieces of it getting stuck in the mold and not just any journey but the unbiased and just journey of the “Scientific method” and experimental design.

                In my opinion, the scientific method or design of experiments(DOE) is the first thing that we should teach our children before we go through the one-two-three’s or A B C’s, not because I am a self-proclaimed rationalist but because I believe the best thing to teach kids is to teach them how to teach themselves and the best way to teach oneself is through the scientific method because it is the perfect recipe which has a pinch of this and a pinch of that and a whole lot of double blinding which shields us from our own mind playing tricks on us to tilt to one side of the hypothesis or the other. The absence of double blinding can lead to things like placebo effect- the term you would have come across if u had listened to arguments between theists and atheists, mostly in online forums, the before mentioned effect being often misquoted and misunderstood by the theists due to the very same reason the placebo phenomenon study was later on re-scrutiny proved to be inconclusive: simple fricking human bias!

            Firstly, I had five pans of hot idlis which needed to be scooped. I quickly formed the null hypothesis before the idlis lost more steam: There is no relation between cooling the bottom of the pan and the stickiness of the idli.

          First, I took a pan of Idli. I did not do the “procedure”. I tried scooping out the 4 idlis in the pan without cooling the back of the pan. I observed how much of the idli is stuck back in the pan. Next, I took another pan of idli. I turned it upside down and let the tap water cool the pan bottom a good few seconds. Then I scooped out the idlis. My observation concluded that there was no significant difference in the amount of idli stuck back in the pan. But the scientific method is about reproducibility of results. Also at this juncture it is important to point out that the experiment is not a pure controlled experiment but rather field experiment, meaning the subjects of my experiment- the idlis and the pans, were neither chosen by random sampling nor were they cooked under controlled conditions to render other factors influencing the stickiness uniform.
            I had three more pans left. Yes, that’s a good 20 idlis we have for breakfast me and my “bachelor pad” roomie, minus the one we keep for the crow. That’s tradition, more about it later. So in order to counter inter-pan variability of the factors, this time, I cooled only two of the four molds in the pan. Now comes the tricky part, introducing the data blind. If I know which two of the idlis are cooled and which two are not, then it might skew my observation due to bias. Now, I can call my Dad to scoop out the idli and observe the “residues” but it would mean I have to make him understand the intricacies of the important scientific experiment that is in process which is not a good idea especially when you are hungry enough to break a fast! So I closed my eyes and gave the pan a spin, so that when it comes to rest, I wouldn’t know which two idlis are treated and which two are as such. As I closed my eyes, the thought of my dad walking in on me with my eyes closed and the pan spinning briefly crossed my mind but luckily my experiment proceeded without interruption. I followed the same procedure with all three pans, the result: my null hypothesis holds! Cooling the bottom of the pan has no significant effect on the stickiness of the idlis! MYTH BUSTED.
                Until the next experiment crops up from under the stove or around the corner of supper, adieu and remember, Scientific method is the best thing to teach someone to teach themselves.

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